Right-wing outlets turn to court after being barred from covering election debate

Federal Leaders

Two right-wing media organizations are turning to the courts after they say their representatives were denied accreditation to cover tonight's election debate.

Rebel Media and the True North Centre for Public Policy are asking the federal court in Toronto to grant them accreditation for the English-language leaders' debate taking place in Gatineau, Que.

The two argue in separate court filings that the body organizing the debate acted unfairly and in bad faith by waiting until the last business day before the event to convey its decision.

They say the Leaders' Debates Commission failed to give adequate reasons for its decision or provide criteria for accreditation, and acted in a partisan manner in reviewing and rejecting their applications.

The organizations say the two debates put on by the commission are particularly important because they are the only ones Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will take part in during the federal election campaign.

Lawyers for the commission are opposing the organizations' motions and the court is expected to hear the case this afternoon.

Both Rebel and True North say they were notified last Friday that their requests for accreditation had been denied.

The organizations say they received a two-sentence email from the chief of the parliamentary press gallery, who cited their involvement in advocacy as the reason for the rejection.

They argue, however, that other media outlets involved in advocacy, such as the Toronto Star newspaper, have been given the green light to attend.

In court documents, True North says the lack of ``meaningful feedback'' and transparency in the process, combined with the absence of avenues to appeal, make the commission's decision arbitrary and unreasonable.

It also alleges the decision amounts to ``an attempt by the current government to censor and silence media outlets that have provided a platform for Canadians with views inconsistent with its mandate.''

Both further say in court documents they will suffer ``irreparable harm'' that ``cannot be quantified in monetary terms or cured'' if they are denied access to Monday's debate and the French-language one next week.

Rebel had applied on behalf of its political commentator, David Menzies, and its reporter Keean Bexte. True North sought accreditation for journalist Andrew Lawton, who is a fellow with the organization.

Lawton said late last month he had been barred from a public Liberal party event in Thunder Bay, Ont., and had subsequently received an apology from the party.

He also made headlines last year while running as a Progressive Conservative candidate in Ontario's provincial election.

Lawton came under fire then for past comments critics described as misogynistic, racist and homophobic, which he blamed on a years-long struggle with an unspecified mental illness.